While Beijing has claimed about 83,700 people have died in China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zhejiang provincial government published and quickly deleted official data indicating the true death toll is significantly higher.
The Zhejiang government deleted the data last week just days after it was published, but epidemiologists who reviewed the information said it was the latest indication that China’s official death toll is vastly undercounted, according to The New York Times.
Provincial data shows that the number of cremations rose to 171,000 in the first quarter of 2023, which is 72,000 more cremations than the same period last year when China’s stringent COVID mandates were still in place.
China has only acknowledged about 83,700 deaths in total.
An analysis earlier this year from the New York paper estimated that China’s most recent wave of COVID, which started late last year, may have resulted in between one million and 1.5 million deaths.
Experts say the data from Zhejiang, which has a population of 65.8 million people, when extrapolated to China’s population of 1.4 billion, is consistent with earlier mortality estimates.
“I’m not sure the impact would have been exactly the same in every province, but I think it would be useful for a rough extrapolation,” University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Ben Cowling said. “It’s consistent with the estimates of around 1.5 million.”